On April 12, 1955, Thomas Francis stood on a podium at the University of Michigan and announced that Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was safe and effective. At last, Americans would be freed from the bonds of polio, a disease that routinely crippled as many as 50,000 children every year. However, triumph quickly turned to tragedy.

On April 28, 1955, 2 weeks after millions of doses of Salk’s formaldehyde-inactivated polio vaccine had been sold to the public, several children developed paralysis. All of the paralyzed children lived in the West and Southwest; all first developed paralysis in the arm that was injected and, although five companies made polio vaccine in 1955, all had received vaccine made by one company – Cutter Laboratories of Berkeley, CA.

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